June 16, 2024

ASU’s Global Sport Institute Promoting Research, Education and Entrepreneurship

 (Written by Jenna Nabors, a graduate student working for Sun Devil Athletics in the Public Relations Lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She will graduate in August 2022. )


From air quality’s impact on athletes to young girls’ perception of sports to roller derby’s rebirth as a woman-empowerment sport, the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University is supporting interdisciplinary sport-related research and preparing student athletes for the future. 


Located in the Sun Devil Stadium, GSI looks at the ways in which sport permeates society and provides Sun Devil athletes with resources, opportunities and knowledge to capitalize on their collegiate experience and be best prepared for their post-sport journey.


“It’s about providing a platform and providing access for student athletes to think about life outside of sport, even early on in the process,” said Jeff Kunowski, the associate director of sports innovation and business development for GSI.


The mission of GSI at ASU is to use sport to create positive change throughout the world. It does this, in part, by bridging the gap between academic research and real-life implications by translating its findings into meaningful, accessible information. 






GSI examines critical issues that are impacting sport through internal projects and supports researchers in disciplines across ASU.


The institute funds interdisciplinary sport-focused research by ASU faculty through seed grants. Additionally, the Global Sport Affiliated Faculty program provides funding towards professional development and global collaboration on research. 


“You don’t realize the role sport plays within society until you start looking around and seeing how many different ways you can look at sport – the literature of sport, the physicality of sport, body representation and sport, gender and sport, it goes on and on and on,” said GSI Chief Operating Officer Karina Bohn. 


Seed grant awardee and assistant professor in the School of Sustainability Jennifer Vanos, for example, researches how air pollution can affect sports. Her research is intersectional, noting how environment injustices and racism widen the gap in access to clean air and manageable temperatures, especially for many youth athletes. She emphasizes the importance of health and safe outdoor spaces for lifelong athlete development.


Alaina Zanin, an assistant professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, received a seed grant for her research on the negotiation of feminine athlete identities through resistant youth sports interventions. Through a drawing study, Zanin and her team found that many young girls don’t see themselves as athletes. To increase girls’ continued participation in sports, her study suggests providing more opportunities for youth sports, recruiting more female coaches and building support systems. 


Skater, faculty advisor for ASU Derby Devils and regents professor of English Devoney Looser received GSI funding for roller derby research. Through this funding she attended the International Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Championships, where she interviewed coaches and skaters from both Team Indigenous and Jewish Roller Derby. She is working on a book that discusses roller derby’s 21st century rebirth as a woman-empowerment sport. 


Other research supported by the institute includes: using sport to dissect the Asian American model minority stereotype, how virtual reality technology will change participation and engagement in large-scale sporting events, Latina representation in sports and the role of volunteers in the production of sport.


To ensure that research extends beyond academic journals, GSI wants to disseminate this information to the populations it impacts by distributing it in all forms of multimedia, namely through the institute’s publication, Global Sport Matters. The publication provides a platform for in-depth insights on a diverse range of sports topics informed by data and research. Contributors to this publication include ASU faculty as well as freelancers. 




GSI also works to meet the educational needs of both individual athletes as well as professional sports organizations.


“I want student athletes to understand that knowledge acquisition and learning is something that is lifelong, that they should be a part of, and that we are their resource for that,” GSI Director Scott Brooks said.


For Sun Devil Athletics, GSI works to provide diversity, equity and inclusion programming for its student athletes, staff and administrators. For Juneteenth, Brooks spoke at Sun Devil Athletics’ annual commemoration, providing historical context of the day and relating it to sport.


In addition to Sun Devil Athletics, the institute has planned and provided programming for the NFL Players Trust, NBA G-League and the Miami Dolphins. 


Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Through partnerships with both Sun Devil Athletics and the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute at ASU, GSI works to educate, inspire and mentor student athletes as they start their own businesses, while helping them to understand the resources they have available to them. 


Kunowski offers one-on-one conversations with student athletes to understand and develop their ideas.


“Over a series of meetings, we try to map out some problems that they’re interested in solving,” said Kunowski. “Then, based off of that, we can create a business plan and ultimately take that to a point where they could see it on paper, be able to present, pitch and be part of some of our funding competitions.”


The Sun Devil Athletics’ Venture Challenge is a program designed to provide early stage startups with a foundation through funding, mentorship and exposure to the sports market.


The first place winner in the 2022 spring challenge was Timeout, an app that provides a holistic approach to care that is easily accessible, personalized and athlete-centered, founded by former Sun Devil Volleyball player Maya McClendon. Other ventures looked at recycling at stadiums and management of an athlete’s name, image and likeness, among others.


“We’re trying to use sport as a conduit for inspiration, for storytelling and for all of the different aspects that play off of the excitement around sport,” said Kunowski.


In the future, GSI hopes to continue expanding research, sharing knowledge, supporting innovation and advancing education. 


“Sport can be used for so much good,” said Bohn. “It’s where innovation takes place. It’s where people come together for common good. And it’s where walls are broken down.”